Kitchen cabinets play a crucial role in any kitchen design. Not only do they provide essential storage space, but they also define the overall style and aesthetic of the space. However, over time cabinets can start to show their age through worn finishes, damaged hardware, and outdated styles. Replacing old, worn-out kitchen cabinets with new ones can totally transform the look and feel of your kitchen. But cabinet replacement also represents a significant investment, so the decision should not be taken lightly. This comprehensive guide will provide you with everything you need to know about evaluating, updating, refinishing, or replacing old kitchen cabinets.

Assessing Your Old Kitchen Cabinets

Before deciding on any course of action for your old kitchen cabinets, take the time to thoroughly assess their current condition. Some key things to inspect include:

Structural Integrity

  • Check all cabinet boxes, doors, drawers and shelves for signs of damage, warping, rot or instability.
  • Test doors and drawers to see if they open and close properly.
  • Look for any gaps, cracks, peeling surfaces, etc.
  • If there are any major structural issues, this may mean a total replacement is required.


  • Examine all hinges, pulls, knobs and other hardware.
  • Look for loose or damaged pieces that need to be tightened or replaced.
  • Outdated hardware like old-fashioned pulls and ceramic knobs can make cabinets seem dated.


  • Determine if the current finish (paint, stain, etc) is worn, faded, cracking, peeling or damaged.
  • Discoloration or yellowing of the finish can give cabinets an aged look.


  • Assess if the style of the cabinets is outdated or not suited to your current aesthetic tastes.
  • Certain styles like ornate carved woodwork or avocado green may scream old fashioned.

Storage Functionality

  • Analyze how well the existing cabinet layout functions for your storage needs.
  • Lack of sufficient shelves, drawers or specialty storage can be an issue.

Taking stock of all these factors will help you determine whether minor upgrades are called for or if a total replacement is the best route.

Should You Refinish, Reface or Replace Old Kitchen Cabinets?

Once you’ve thoroughly inspected your old cabinets, the next decision is how to best address any issues or outdated elements. Here is an overview of your main options:


This involves stripping or sanding the existing cabinet boxes and doors down to bare wood and applying a new stain, paint or other finish. Refinishing can modernize the look of wood cabinets and restore a worn but structurally sound finish. The pros are that it avoids replacement costs and preserves existing cabinets. The downsides are the labor intensity of stripping and refinishing and potential limitations with wood repairs or damage.


Cabinet refacing entails replacing cabinet door and drawer fronts with new updated styles. You can also swap out hardware like knobs and hinges to compleely change the look. The original cabinet box is left intact, so no major structural changes are made. The benefits of refacing are cost savings versus new cabinets and quick project completion time. Limitations include existing cabinet layout and sizes remain unchanged.

Partial Replacement

In some cases, only a section of old cabinets may need replacement due to excessive damage or an awkward layout. Replacing only a portion of cabinets allows you to spread costs over time. Mixing old and new cabinets can potentially clash in some designs however.

Full Replacement

For kitchens needing substantial structural repairs, entirely outdated components, or a fresh layout, full cabinet replacement is often the best but most expensive option. You can fully customize the style, finish, sizes and configuration of new cabinets. The major downside is the demolition of existing cabinets and high costs.

Consider factors like your budget, willingness to undertake a project, and the scope of issues with your current cabinets when deciding between these options. Your contractor can also provide recommendations.

Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Refinishing is an economical way to give worn or damaged cabinets a fresh, updated look. Here are some key steps for how to refinish old cabinets:


Thoroughly clean inside and outside of all cabinets with a degreasing cleaner to remove built-up grease, grime and residues.

Remove Doors and Hardware

Detach all doors, drawers, shelves, knobs and pulls prior to refinishing and store safely aside. Number pieces to ensure proper reinstallation.

Sand Away Finish

Use a palm sander with progressively finer grit sandpaper to sand down to bare wood. Be sure to sand all surfaces including the cabinet box.

Repair Damage

Address any gouges, cracks, peeling veneers or other damage with wood filler, patches, or glue. Allow any repairs to fully cure.

Apply Primer

For painting, apply a high-quality primer like an oil-based or shellac-based option which will seal the wood.

Apply New Finish

Use your finish of choice – stain, paint, varnish, etc. Apply multiple coats allowing proper dry time between coats.

Reinstall and Seal

Once fully dry, reinstall all doors, drawers, hardware and replace shelves. Seal any raw wood edges with a clear sealer.

Clean and Organize

Give your revamped cabinets a good cleaning before unloading dishes and other items. This is also a great time for organizing.

With some finesse and DIY skills, refinishing can give you dramatically updated cabinets. But it does require an investment of time and elbow grease.

Refacing Old Kitchen Cabinets

If your cabinet boxes are structurally sound, refacing can be a cost-effective facelift:

Select New Door Styles

Choose replacement doors in fresh stains, paints or styles to update the look. Custom sizing is available.

Replace Hardware

Swap outdated knobs and pulls for new, modern hardware in brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze or matte black.

Install New Doors and Drawers

Professionals will remove old doors and install new replacement doors, keeping modifications minimal.

Enhance With Molding

Optional trim molding updates the look and hides any gaps for a seamless finish.

Paint the Boxes

Painting just the cabinet boxes to match your new doors can help unify the look.

Refacing provides a simple upgrade without the complexity of fully custom new cabinets. Limitations can include existing cabinet sizes and limited replacement options.

Should You Keep or Replace Kitchen Cabinets When Remodeling?

During kitchen remodels, one key decision is determining whether to keep or replace your existing cabinets. Assessing their current state is crucial:

Consider Keeping If:

  • Cabinets are structurally sound with no repairs needed
  • Layout or size of cabinets works well for space
  • You have higher-end or custom cabinets worth preserving
  • Desired style and finishes are current or can be updated
  • Budget is limited

Consider Replacing If:

  • Significant repairs are required due to damage
  • Existing layout poorly suits workflow or storage needs
  • Older cheap cabinet boxes and doors are used
  • Current style is dated and not on trend
  • Refinishing or refacing will not achieve desired results
  • Budget allows for new custom or semi-custom cabinets

Unless your current cabinets are completely unsalvageable, also consider environmental factors like sending additional waste to landfills. In many cases, some combination of reusing, refinishing or refacing existing cabinets along with carefully selected new cabinets offers the right balance of cost-effectiveness and function.

What Are Some Good Options for Replacing Old Kitchen Cabinets?

From DIY to full custom, there are many options to consider when replacing old, worn-out kitchen cabinets:

Stock Cabinets

Offered in standard sizes at home improvement stores, stock cabinets provide an affordable and readily available option. Limited customization is possible with stock cabinetry.

Semi-Custom Cabinets

Offering more front styles and sizes along with customization of features like shelves and drawers. Provide a middle ground between stock and custom cabinets.

Custom Cabinets

Fully customized cabinets are built specifically for your kitchen’s layout and design. Provides greatest flexibility but also highest cost.

Ready-to-Assemble (RTA) Cabinets

Sold in a flat-pack kit for assembly at home. Component pieces allow for some customization. Quality and selection varies.

Used Cabinets

Secondhand cabinets from remodeling projects or salvage can provide major cost savings. Matching or modifying used cabinets for a new space takes finesse however.

When selecting new cabinets, consider costs, construction quality, material options like solid wood versus plywood, specialty storage needs and overall customization requirements.

Key Tips for Replacing Old Kitchen Cabinets

To ensure your kitchen cabinet replacement project goes smoothly, keep these tips in mind:

  • Have an Experienced Contractor – Unless tackling a DIY RTA install, hire a qualified contractor experienced in cabinet replacement. Get referrals and evaluate examples of past kitchen projects.
  • Pick Durable Materials – Opt for plywood box construction and solid hardwood doors and drawers. Avoid cheaper particleboard and plastic laminate options.
  • Take Precise Measurements – Accurately measure your existing kitchen and available space, including windows, doors and ceiling heights.
  • Stick to a Schedule – Demolition and install should follow an established timeline. Make arrangements if the kitchen will be out of commission for any length of time.
  • Address Modifications Early – Make any needed changes to cabinet layouts, additions like islands or soffits, plumbing or electrical early in the process.
  • Inspect and Seal – Carefully examine cabinets at time of delivery and during install. Use caulk and trim molding for finished look.
  • Budget for Extras – Have a contingency fund for surprises like rotted flooring or structural issues uncovered during demo.

Planning ahead helps avoid unexpected problems and additional costs when undertaking a major kitchen remodel.

FAQs About Replacing Old Kitchen Cabinets

Still have questions about evaluating your options for old and outdated kitchen cabinets? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What are signs my cabinets need replacing?

Major signs your cabinets need replacement include extensive structural damage, rot or mold issues, severe warping, outdated or unsafe materials (like asbestos), insufficient storage space, and outdated or unworkable layouts. Cosmetically, flaking finishes, warped doors and drawers, and broken, loose or damaged hardware also indicate replacement needs.

Can I mix old and new kitchen cabinets together?

It is possible to mix existing cabinets with new ones, but care is required to achieve a cohesive look. Use refinishing or refacing to update old cabinets so they coordinate style-wise with new ones. Add unifying design elements like the same hardware and lighting fixtures. Also take special care transitioning countertops and backsplashes.

Should I replace upper or lower cabinets first?

If undertaking a staged cabinet replacement, prioritize deteriorated base cabinets first. Lower cabinets see more wear-and-tear. Replacing base cabinets also allows for easy modifications to kitchen layout or counter heights. If updating for aesthetic reasons, focus first on visible door and drawer fronts by refacing rather than structural elements.

Can I DIY kitchen cabinet replacement?

For basic stock cabinet installs or RTA cabinets, an experienced DIYer can potentially tackle replacement, especially for smaller kitchens. But for larger kitchens, semi-custom installs or any structural modifications, professional help is strongly advised. The existing cabinet demolition process alone is complicated, hazardous and labor intensive.

What questions should I ask cabinet companies?

When selecting a cabinet supplier or manufacturer, key questions to ask include: where are cabinets constructed and with what materials; what finish options they offer; whether they do installs; if they handle design, measurements and project planning; do they have experience with kitchen remodeling; can they provide referrals to view past work; and do they offer a warranty or guarantee on cabinets and labor.

How do I choose new kitchen cabinet colors?

Choosing cabinet colors that complement your kitchen design includes matching existing elements like countertops, flooring and backsplashes, selecting subdued neutrals versus bolder hues, considering glare on darker colors, and allowing for plenty of light and ventilation. Consult with designers on the latest in kitchen color trends. Always view color samples in person before finalizing your palette.

Can I paint old cabinets instead of replacing them?

Painting worn or outdated cabinets is far less costly than replacing them. Proper prep and primer selection are key to ensuring the painted finish adheres and lasts without peeling or cracking. Sand to roughen surfaces, fill holes, degrease, use high-adhesion primer and opt for cabinet paint. Remember doors may need additional priming and coats on all edges and sides.

Replacing old, worn-out kitchen cabinets is a major endeavor, but armed with the information above you can make the best choice for your needs and budget. Assessing current cabinet condition, refinishing versus replacing, material options, hiring experienced contractors and asking the right questions will lead to a successful kitchen cabinet installation that will last for years. What are you waiting for? Start planning your kitchen cabinet overhaul today.